THUNDER BAY, ON --- April 1, 2012 ---- I am still thinking of the last Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra pops concert. Our TBSO plays so well they are always up to any challenge. How is it that they can play such a wide variety of music requiring different sets of skills? It is as though they go into hiding for a few moments and morph into an entirely different set of performers. I have often seen TBSO musicians play a classical concert in their dress blacks only to find some of them playing at my favourite watering hole a few hours later. If you want proof of the transformation check out Thunder Bays latest bluegrass group Mc Vickers Creek!
One way to develop and polish skills of musicians is to bring in a guest conductor, often a music specialist. Brian Jackson is such a conductor. He is an esteemed musician and a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, which is a lifetime accomplishment for most organists. It is his work with Canadian orchestras that has earned him fame. His latest bio states that he is the principal Pops Conductor of the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, Orchestra London, and the Victoria Symphony, though I suspect he may have recently retired from the latter position.
Developing a speciality is for some the way to go. Pops concerts make money for orchestras of all types. In Thunder Bay the best houses are for the Pops concerts. Conductors such as Howard Cable made many arrangements of popular music for the orchestra. Some of these orchestral arrangements have become as popular as the original version of the song. The last Pops concert contained some small orchestral gems that I truly enjoyed. The Karelia Suite by Sebelius comes to mind. In Brian Jackson’s case I think his development as a Pops conductor grew out of his earlier experiences of being a general conductor with orchestras such as the Peterborough Symphony Orchestra.
Aisslinn Nosky is a baroque specialist. Those who witnessed the Symphony Sunday Concert at St. Paul’s United Church last Sunday were simply amazed! Is that our orchestra? Is that the real tempo that Vivaldi should be played at? These were some of the questions people asked me about this concert. Of course the answer to both these questions is yes. Playing in the closer ambience of St. Paul’s lets the audience get closer to the action. The harpsichord, never an overwhelming instrument could be heard through the texture of the downsized baroque TBSO.
There is a baroque seating pattern for the musicians with the cellos and Basses in the centre flanked by the first violins on one side and the second violins on the other side. Often one violin section will musically answer the other and the separation gives an enhanced stereo effect.
Aisslinn’s role was music leader since she played as well as cued the orchestra. In Vivaldi’s time the string sections would often play standing. With baroque instruments a great deal more effort is needed to get the same level of expression the same musician can achieve with a modern violin. Many learnt their music close to the point of memorization so that they could become more physically involved with the creation of their music. I am sure that Aisslinn tried very hard to get the TBSO musicians to move like the players of Tafelmusik, she succeeded to some degree. Body language or not if your eyes were closed the string work was bright sharp snappy and crisp. Just the way any virtuosic group would play Vivaldi.
Does bringing in a specialist pay off? I really believe that it is one of the best tools the orchestra has to hone and develop the skills of their musicians. In Thunder Bay our orchestra really is the peoples orchestra, they will be required to play whatever music is placed in front of them, confidently and with conviction. Brian Jackson keeps bringing back the crowds to the TBSO Pops series, and that makes money for the orchestra, and Aisslinn Nosky reviled the baroque virtuoso side of our orchestra in an energetic polished performance that left the audience talking for a week or more.
While guest conductors may come and go a little of their presence remains with our musicians and the skills they have honed are applied again and again.
Arts Editor: LakeSuperiorNews.com